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Time To Burn Off The Holiday Fat

Monday, December 27th, 2010


I was driving in today’s blizzard and decided to listen to AM radio for local road and weather conditions. I was surprised by how many ads – back to back – were about quick-fix supplements and diets to lose weight. Not a single ad was about exercise. I know gyms pick up traffic this time of the year. But a lot of gym goers don’t know what to do, get injured or don’t get results. Here are some tips for beginners:

Today's Blizzard From My Window

Think of your exercise regimen as a process with phases. Each phases targets one aspect of your fitness.

Phase I. Preparation. Get Ready in 4 to 8 Weekly or Bi-weekly 30-minute Sessions.

These sessions focus on the basics of body awareness, breathing exercises and fitness education. Warm up, movement, balance, breathing, awareness of fatigue, soreness, physical limitations and handicaps are key parts of these sessions. In addition, learn to use simple tools such as free weights, machines, and physioballs among others. Finally, general safety measures, proper rehydration, appropriate clothing and shoes, stretching, relaxation techniques and use of rest periods are very important in these sessions. This phase may seem elementary and insignificant. But just as the early years of schooling are both important and delicate, there is more to the beginning sessions of a long-term program than meets the eyes. The worst outcome is to get injured or frustrated in these early stages. The best situation is to build confidence and prepare the body in a gentle and natural way. Your body is not going to go through a dramatic transformation immediately. Appreciate the slow pace of change.

Phase II: Cardio Respiratory Fitness: Build Stamina in 10 Weekly or Bi-weekly Sessions.

Most people who suffer from metabolic syndrome and obesity get winded quickly in spite of strong muscles (especially in the legs.) De-conditioned individuals are often unable to engage in a long exercise session without excessive fatigue and shortness of breath. This phase  – which is different from “cardio” routines – improves lung capacity, cardiovascular tone and the neuromuscular response to exercise. Gentle aerobic exercises using the treadmill or stationary bike are preferred in the beginning. Use of free weights and resistance training should be limited to isotonic repetitions – that is high reps and low weights. Whole body exercises such as calisthenics, yoga and pilates are also very effective to build heart and lung capacity for beginners.

The goal here is not to get stronger (that will come later), but to increase the cardio respiratory capacity. So whatever combination you choose, your heart rate and breath frequency should remain moderately high for the entire duration of exercise – even if the session is only 15 minutes. As a rule, for most midlife people this corresponds to a heart rate of 100 to 120 beats per minute. The breath work should be such that you are slightly aware of breathing when you talk and exercise. If you are able to engage in a conversation without any difficulty you are not working hard enough. But if you cannot catch your breath, slow down. As always, discuss your concerns and medical risks with your trainer and if necessary with your doctor since your case may be different.

Phase III: Full Exercise Program. 12 -16 Weeks of Full Workouts 3 Times Per Week

The key difference between this phase and the previous preparatory phases is in the variety of choices, the order of exercises and most importantly a transition from gentle aerobics to resistance training. By this time, you should be able to engage in aerobic exercise routines comfortably and safely. Several options are possible and for most people we recommend only one of them. The first option is to increase the intensity of the session. If the cardio session included walking 30 minutes on the treadmill, we will replace it with 30 minutes of jogging. Although this is a viable option, it is not always possible for big people and may not be safe. The second option is to increase the duration of the session to 45 or 60 minutes. This newly prolonged session could also be split into two sessions: 30 minutes in the morning, 30 minutes in the afternoon but this may not be practical for everyone. The third option, which I prefer, is to add a variety of other routines, which complement each other. These complementary routines mix up resistance training with machines or free weights, use of the physioballs, calisthenics, core strength training and balance exercises with aerobic work-outs.  Since you are now exercising more often, adding variety will keep you engaged and committed to long-term exercise regimens.

Phase IV: “The Sky is the Limit” Program. 6 Months to Forever!

This phase of the program is designed for the rest of your life! For that reason it is flexible and somewhat complex. By this time, most overweight individuals have reached their fat loss goal. This phase corresponds therefore to the maintenance phase of a dietary program. But it differs from a maintenance program per se because it still contains goals, which go beyond fat loss. For example, a goal may to reshape or sculpt your body to gain more definition. The fat in the belly is gone but there is still subcutaneous fat to get rid of in the arms or the buttocks. Or in other cases, fat loss or even the toning may not be the goal anymore. It may be power, endurance or external goals like being able to kayak or mountain climb. If you are at this stage of change, you should be truly body proud and feel euphoric. You deserve it. It is time to take a deep breath. Reassess your achievements and your bodily assets. Go back to your trainer and ask for refresher sessions. You will have to know how to rotate your regimen, how to change your rest intervals according to your day-to-day schedule. You have to learn to modulate your program according to seasonal changes and according to events in your life: vacation, work travel, moving to a new town, pregnancy, a divorce or losing a job, having family members visit, etc. The key is to be mindful of your life situation and adjust your exercise routine accordingly. You are in charge, you have all the skills you need to readjust, fine-tune and if necessary redesign your program entirely.

Some additional tips:

Exercising, dieting and still gaining weight? Which group do you belong to?

Hefty Athletes (crew, football and hockey players in particular) who eat everything in site after a long aerobic training session.

College Partiers (usually young women) who starve for three days but party and hang out starting Thursday nights till Sunday (pizza, pasta, beer, cake.)

Good Partners who watch what they eat all day and even exercise an hour a day but overeat to keep company of their spouses at nights or weekends.

Weekend Bingers. They work hard all week, exercise regularly and then drop the ball completely on the weekends. A weekend getaway: extra bonus!

Socialites. Try to be committed to weight loss, fund-raisers and board meetings all at once! The “society calories” win over the private sweat and chagrin.

Boat People. Once off shore, the rules of thermodynamics no longer apply. Calories do not count when consumed on the boat!

Serious Bingers, Night Eaters and Closet Eaters: Calories do not lie no matter how much you exercise.

TAGS // Exercise & Activity | No Comments

Some Exercise Tips

Friday, November 26th, 2010

The “eating season” has begun! Coming next is the guilt of self-indulgence constantly reminded to us by extra inches around our waistline… Every year around this time people get motivated to lose weight with exercise. So here is an interesting take on exercise.

In his erudite book, Ancient Medicine, Edelstein summarizes a typical exercise regimen as recommended by ancient Greek physicians:

…youths and men go to the gymnasium for training; older men go to the bathhouse, or likewise go to the gymnasium, to anoint themselves. When this is done, a carefully selected meal is eaten at home, toward noon, after which a nap in cool shade is beneficial…Next a walk is taken, then a rest, and one returns to the gymnasium. Immediately after the exercises, which take the entire afternoon, one takes a bath or anoints the body, and goes home to an evening meal shortly before sunset. At this meal, too, only dishes selected in accordance with definite rules are served. Following the evening meal, one either goes to bed immediately or takes another walk…

(Ancient Medicine, Ludwig Edelstein, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987, p307.)

One wonders if Greek men who followed this kind of regimen ever worked! Nonetheless, the exercise regimen described here (which would be varied from day to day) was meant to be an integral part of a lifestyle. It was incorporated in a program that also included diet, and rest as well as self-care. For an exercise regimen to be sustainable and successful, it has to be safe, carefully planned, and gently paced. Wellbeing was the main goal of the Greek’s ancient exercise training and should remain our goal in the 21st Century.

East River Sunny Side

Some Tips For a Personal Exercise Program:

– Understand that a program that worked for you when you were in your twenties may not be advisable for you in midlife. Also, a regimen, which worked for a friend of yours or even a family member may not give the same results for you.

– Do not lose focus of your goals. You may have long-term goals such as fat loss or a certain dress size. You may also have short-term goals such as increasing your cardio respiratory capacity. And you may even have weekly and daily goals. Do not lose sight of your goals and if you get discouraged or lose motivation, remind yourself of your goals. An individual without a fitness goal becomes a “gym rat,” that is a person who just hangs out at the gym wasting time!

– Be kind to your body. Do not use exercise as a means to stress your body or to “punish” yourself for acts or feelings that frustrate you, such as overeating. Use exercise as a positive tool to de-stress and to feel good about yourself. Do not push yourself beyond reason and do not get into a competition with yourself.

– If you have medical conditions, talk to your doctor about exercise. Your doctor may not be an expert in exercise physiology, but he or she may alert you to certain risks and conditions, which you may have so you can discuss them with your trainer. For example you may have forgotten that you have suffered from abdominal hernias in the past or you may overlook nerve damage in your feet.

– Finally, our bodies change and so do our goals. It is important to reassess your program periodically. If fat loss is your primary goal, you need to reconsider the frequency and intensity of your routines, rest intervals, the specifics of your regimen, every few months. Once you have reached your weight loss goals, you have to reassess your regimen for maintenance or toning purposes.

TAGS // Exercise & Activity, Lifestyle Change: The Parts & Process | No Comments

Why Exercise?

Monday, November 8th, 2010

I was having dinner with a family friend last night and we were chatting about the latest trends in exercise and our own personal experiences. It made me want to write this blog today. I used to practice a yoga regimen that I had sort of invented for myself and I loved it more than any other exercise. When I got seriously into New York Style Pilates (that is pilates with equipment), I stopped doing my yoga on a regular basis – I now miss it and I know I will get back to it. One big reason I have gotten so into Pilates is because of how I feel after each session.

Aerobic exercise releases endorphins, which cause a natural “high.” Yoga relaxes the body and settles the mind. Pilates makes me “happy” and I do not know why. Perhaps, the routines built into Pilates cause a release of hormones such as vasopressin or oxytocin, which are known to have a “cuddling effect” – a sense of contentment. I do not have the answer yet. I just know I feel different after doing aerobics, yoga or Pilates.

Now, let’s review some of the benefits of exercise – no matter what kind – that are not usually remembered: Exercise improves breathing and clears the mind. It relaxes the body and helps with aches and pains resulting from poor posture or stress. It stimulates the nervous system and helps with agility and balance. Most exercise routines massage the internal organs and help with internal functions such as digestion. Stretching is healthy for muscles and joints as well as sleep and overall relaxation. Last but not least regular exercise enhances sexual health. So keep all these good “side” benefits of exercise in mind when you plan to take a class or design a personal regimen.

Finally, remember exercise has to be safe, frequent and enjoyable!

TAGS // Exercise & Activity | No Comments

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dr yavari

Dr. Reza Yavari M.D. is a Board Certified Endocrinologist and founder of Beyond Care®, a leading preventive care and obesity center located in Guilford, CT. Learn More

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